Best Free Firewall Protection

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Introduction

 

Firewalls help monitor your system's communications between your network and the Internet, to help prevent intrusions and attacks. They are particularly useful for controlling the activities of Internet facing applications.

No other freeware product has more of a reputation for causing user angst than a firewall. To find a suitable product may involve a process of trial and error. A firewall should protect while not being too intrusive or too complicated to handle. In this article we give you a selection of what we think is the best free firewall software available today. Our recommendations are made taking into consideration both editors' and site visitors' opinions and comments.

Firewalls come in two flavours; software based and hardware based. Software based firewalls reside on your machine, running in the background in order to keep a watch on things. To avoid potential conflicts only install one (third-party) software firewall. You can improve protection, however, by using a hardware "firewall" (such as a router) and a software firewall in conjunction. Modern routers usually have a built-in firewall, helping to filter out content before your machine; consult your router documentation for more details.

Basic firewall protection is critical for securing your PC. Simple firewalls (like the default Windows firewall) limit access to your system and personal information, and silently protect you from inbound threats. We review basic third-party firewalls that have marginally better security than the Windows firewall, such as simpler features for monitoring programs that request outgoing Internet connections (we call this "outbound protection"). The default Windows firewall has only limited outbound protection; other third party applications generally offer greater customizability.

Proactive firewalls have the most extended protection, including HIPS or program monitoring (HIPS Explained), and watch for malicious behavior before malware gets a chance to take control of your PC or turn it into a botnet drone. They seek to achieve stronger "2-way" protection, preventing programs from broadcasting your personal information to the Internet.

Some kinds of malware are best detected by their behavior, so a proactive firewall (or firewall/HIPS combo) is a solid second layer of protection next to your antivirus program. It's an excellent option for high risk users (check out our Security Wizard to see if this includes you). However, it's plausible to argue that a good resident antivirus will stop some malicious threats before they get a chance to make it to the Internet anyway. Many of the top antivirus programs are starting to provide behavioral blocking and extended scanning of network activity.

Nevertheless, it is important to use basic or proactive firewall protection, antivirus software for active protection, and safe practices from our "most important advice of all" (Security Wizard) in order to minimize the risk of malware on your PC.

You can "upgrade" (for free!) your security by reading the documentation and learning about proactive firewalls or HIPS programs, or using other protection like least-privileged user accounts and/or Sandboxie or GeSWall. This information, and more, is available on various part of our website.
 

Review Index

Additional Tips/Precautions

  • Before installing new resident security products, including antivirus and firewall programs, you may want to make a full drive image. By creating a full drive image you are able to restore your entire computer back to a previous state in the event your system becomes completely unresponsive. Drive imaging allows you to recover from unintentional conflicts as well as severe malware infections. Everyone's system is unique and may have old, latent drivers that may be incompatible with whatever you are installing, causing problems with your system. Windows Vista (Ultimate) and Windows 7 have a built in "Complete PC Backup and Restore" feature, or you can use a free drive imaging program
  • To cleanly uninstall your (third-party) firewall before installing a new one, you may consider using ZSoft Uninstaller to analyze before and after the installation. If you haven't used it on your current firewall, try Revo Uninstaller (or other vendor or Windows uninstaller), check for leftover services and drivers with Autoruns, and restart your computer.
Basic Firewalls

 

Discussion

The built-in Windows firewall is a common choice since it passes all inbound tests (both stealth and open port) and doesn't have many popup alerts. It doesn't require installation (it comes built-in with modern versions of Windows), so it's not likely to conflict with your other programs. And many average users may not reliably handle the popup alerts of the best firewalls on the market (especially at their max settings).

If you scan clean for malware, don't want/need the additional features of a third-party firewall, and are a relatively low risk user, then the Windows firewall could be a practical and useful solution.

Alternatively, you can replace the Windows firewall with a basic third-party firewall for easier control of outbound protection and additional features. Most simple two-way firewalls ask you to allow or deny Internet access for unknown programs. Many automatically allow trustworthy apps and remember your decisions to become silent over time.

First, you can convert a proactive firewall into a basic two-way firewall, making some of the best free firewalls behave with similar silence and protection as ZoneAlarm. Select the following one-click configurations to set them (see the proactive section for more on them):

  • Online Armor Free: Right-click its tray icon > uncheck the "Program Guard". It's a user friendly option for this configuration if it doesn't conflict with your other software.
  • Comodo Internet Security: Right-click its tray icon > set "Defense+" to "disabled". Or select the "Firewall only" configuration during installation. Make sure to enable rule creation in 'firewall behavior settings' (so you can modify program rules later).

Second, additional third-party firewalls behave similar to the basic configurations of proactive firewalls above. ZoneAlarm, for example, has made a comeback with fewer popups and lighter resource use.

 

 

Basic Firewall Reviews

ZoneAlarm Free Firewall  is a well-established inbound/outbound OS firewall solution suited for users of every level of experience. ZoneAlarm protects systems from intrusions as well as program access to the web. ZoneAlarm features an easy-to-understand user interface. Users can adjust security settings for their needs to allow for file/printer sharing, public networks, and even turn off the firewall if ever needed. Simple controls in the form of visual slide bars make setting up this firewall a snap. ZoneAlarm offers to help users setup initial program access with a first-run scan of installed software and allows/denies accordingly. This first scan does not always offer accurate access to programs.

Users will have to interact with this firewall for a time after installation to make sure programs needing LAN or internet access are granted proper permissions. Popups are very simple in format offering Deny, Accept, and a checkbox a user can check to make ZoneAlarm remember the decision. Novice users should be able to easily identify the name of the program asking for web access so they can make the appropriate decision.

The Program Control will allow users to set ZoneAlarm for Low, which is a learning mode and no OS firewall protection and limited popups. Or users can choose Medium, which will make programs ask for permission to access the trusted and internet zones. The high setting is not offered in the Free version of ZoneAlarm. The Smart Defense Advisor will help reduce popups by offering settings for programs asking for access, based on the decisions made by other users worldwide. Users can choose whether or not to participate in ZoneAlarm's community defense program. Users can set programs access manually at anytime by going to ZoneAlarm's Program Control and selecting Programs.

Internet Zone controls are divided into the Trusted Zone, used for the local network to share files, printers, etc., and the Internet Zone for communication to/from the web. A simple 3-position format allows users to choose from "No protection" (firewall is off), Medium (Allows file/printer sharing), and High (will allow users to connect to a network but will not allow anyone else to connect to your system). The medium setting is recommended for home networks with more than one system, and for users whose modem requires this setting. The high setting is most recommended for single-system web access (only one computer at home and modem does not require a home network setting), and for public areas such as cafes, restaurants, and hotels (etc.) with wifi.

ZoneAlarm Free offers basic two-way defense, stealth mode, and anti-phishing protection. However, it lacks HIPS or program-to-program protection.

It is worth noting that there have been many negative comments about the latest version of the software, at least from the visitors on our site. Most notably, many features have been removed, and may be regarded as a step down from previous versions. Perhaps something you may want to take into account when choosing a firewall product.


 

Windows 7 Firewall Control Windows 7 Firewall Control is a good choice for those intending on using the Windows built-in Firewall. Despite its name, the program is compatible with Windows XP and higher. In a nutshell, Windows7FirewallControl allows the user to configure the Windows firewall to block or allow applications from connecting to the internet; it adds better outbound protection configuration to the built-in Firewall. It is based on the Windows Filtering Platform (which is what the built-in firewall is also based on), so unlike most other firewalls it does not install any third party drivers. The user interface is clean and simple, reflecting what this program does (ie. block or allow application access - nothing more).

There are three modes a user can choose from; Normal, DisableAll, or EnableAll. DisableAll disables all applications regardless of program settings, while EnableAll allows all application access (essentially equivalent to switching off the firewall completely). Unless needing to test something specifically, the Normal Mode is the recommended one - applications/programs are allowed or denied access depending on the rules set.

Under the Normal Mode, when a program tries to access the internet for the first time (upon installation of W7 Firewall Control) a window pop-ups with information on what the application is, the publisher, etc (assuming default program settings). You can then allow or disallow access, either permanently or as a one-time basis. Selecting the former option will add the settings permanently to the Programs list, while with the latter option you will have to deal with the pop-up window again on the next launch.

In addition to the window pop-up for new programs, activities that take place (ie. blocked/allowed traffic, etc) are logged and shows up in the bottom right corner of your screen. Both the pop-up window and log activity notification dialogue can be turned on or off at the user's discretion.

That's basically all there is to it. It may get a bit annoying when you first starting using it, since you will have to define the initial rules for all your applications (ie. allow or disallow them); this includes everything from Internet Explorer to your antivirus program. Nevertheless, Windows7FirewallControl allows much greater and easier control over the built-in firewall than what the operating system offers.


 

Tinywall 2.0 TinyWall is a lightweight firewall solution that works with the built-in Windows Firewall. With no pop-ups to annoy the user, it can be an ideal set-and-forget solution. The installation package is very small, weighing in at just over 1 MB. Installation is a breeze, though there is no option for the user to select where to install the program. After installation, it starts running quietly in the background, as indicated by the tray icon. All the program features can be accessed by clicking once on the tray icon; there is no 'main window' interface. From the pop-up menu, the user can also view and select, among others, the operating mode, total network activity, adding application/process exceptions, and accessing the Firewall Settings dialog.

The Firewall Settings dialog is where the user can manage General settings, such as password protecting the application. An application exceptions section also allows the user to specify applications that are allowed to communicate with the network. There is also a 'Detect' feature where the program will try to detect known applications, or the user can elect to manually add applications. Furthermore, TinyWall is able to recognize associated processes with the same application. For example, if you have a program that has more than one process, adding the first process will result in the program also offering to whitelist the second related process as well. Needless to say this is very useful for those applications that have more than one process.

It should be noted that when adding an exception to the list, the default settings are 'Unrestricted UDP and TCP traffic'. Depending on the nature of the program it may be necessary to restrict it to 'Outgoing only' to offer maximum security.

The special exceptions tab allows the user to specify more advanced settings; specifically, allowing the user to select which system services to allow/block. It is recommended to leave it as is unless there's something you really want to change.

The maintenance tab rounds out the Settings dialog, allowing the user to import/export settings, check for updates manually, and a link to visit the vendor's webpage.

A small, lightweight firewall, TinyWall is a solid choice for those looking for a reliable, low-resource firewall program that does not interfere with the user's computer usage.

Firewalls with Strong HIPS Protection

 

Discussion

The following personal firewalls provide excellent network and HIPS protection. Each firewall comes with default settings and, depending on the users' needs, may not require much adjustments.

Firewall products in this section require more time to learn than basic firewalls, in order to get the most out of them. Since firewalls are often praised for their security effectiveness at their max settings, users will likely have lower protection than mentioned by independent testing sources like Matousec. All of the product vendors seek to provide user friendly features, sometimes incorporating reduced levels of protection in their default settings (by decreasing some HIPS monitoring).

 

Proactive Firewall Reviews

Comodo Firewall is a solid choice for users seeking a full featured security suite. This latest release is suitable for both lightly-skilled users (still must have knowledge of installed programs) and technically advanced users. Its robust and active HIPS (or application monitoring feature), called "Defense+", matches or exceeds the security performance of pay products. Comodo allows for much control and customization for the curious or the paranoid.

Comodo includes a "memory firewall" (against buffer overflow attacks) and a light sandbox component to limit the way unknown applications and new software installations affect your computer. The use of sandbox protection limits the negative effects of malware. It maintains a lengthy list of known safe applications, but if an unknown application attempts entry through the firewall, Comodo will deny the application and ask the user what to do. The new release contains user friendly features by default while allowing experienced users to maintain control over ports, protocols, and configurations.

During installation the user has three firewall installation options to choose from:  Firewall Only, and Firewall with Optimum or Maximum Proactive Defense (ie. the Defense+ feature as mentioned earlier). After installation Comodo automatically selects "Safe Mode", which generates numerous popup alerts for applications not in its trusted vendors list (you can browse this list to see if you trust the vendors: go to the Defense+ tab > "Common Tasks" > "View My Trusted Software Vendors"). When you answer "allow" and "remember your answer" to popup alerts for an application, Comodo creates a custom policy for it. Some of its policies are fairly liberal.

In the more liberal "Clean PC Mode", Defense+ automatically treats all applications on your drive as safe (but if any malware is currently hidden on your drive, it too would be considered safe). Applications still receive some minimal monitoring for Comodo's two protected lists ("my protected registry keys" and "my protected COM interfaces") and for running as an executable, or more/less monitoring depending on their custom policy. And new files get sent to a list of files "waiting for your review" in the "Summary" page. Files listed for review will be considered possibly unsafe and will provoke popup messages, as if in Safe Mode, until their custom policies are made.

Comodo limits the frequency of alerts by automatically treating some programs as safe and allowing some applications to access the Internet. You can additionally automate the behavior of Defense+ by one or more of these methods for treating applications as safe:

  • Have it "remember your answer" to all popup alerts when an application first runs, which works for some applications (because some custom policies set this way are close to "trusted" status). But if an application still nags you, click "More Options" in the alert and use the drop down box to select "trusted" or "blocked" (etc.), if available, or set an application to trusted manually ("Defense+" > "Advanced" > "Computer Security Policy" > "Edit..." > "Use a Predefined Policy"), which finally ceases popup alerts and most intrusion prevention for that application.
  • Add files to the lists of "My Own Safe Files" or "My Trusted Software Vendors" in the interface (see the "Defense+" tab), which is most helpful for "Safe Mode" or "Paranoid Mode".
  • Use the "Clean PC Mode" (right-click the tray icon and select it under the "Defense+ Security Level"). But make sure to scan and remove any malware first.

The following guides by Gizmo's Freeware also contain many useful information about Comodo's settings: How to Install Comodo, How to Tame Comodo Defense+ Without Disabling It, and MC's Mini Tutorial.


 

Online Armor FirewallA solid contender is the free version of Online Armor Free. It has outstanding leak-test and HIPS performance (the HIPS feature is mostly in its "Program Guard"). It has a unique feature called "run safer" that allows you to selectively set risky applications (web browsers, office software, readers/viewers, instant messengers, email or news programs, multimedia software, download managers, etc.) to run as if under a limited user account (go to "Programs" tab > uncheck "Hide Trusted" > highlight a program and click "Run Safer"). It minimizes popup alerts over time with its automatic list of safe programs, your on-demand scans with its safety check wizard, and your responses to popup alerts -- especially in cases where you tell it to remember your decisions and have it treat programs as trustworthy.

Run the wizard and have it search your PC for known programs to allow/block/ask. In this case, Online Armor relies on you to respond to alerts for unknown programs. For the curious or paranoid user, it uses excellent popup messages when it automatically allows a program to connect online and, optionally, when it automatically trusts a program/process to run (these alerts don't require user action and they can be enabled/disabled in the interface with "Options" > "Firewall", and "Programs" > "Options"). For example, I noticed a message when it auto trusted a key logger test, but after I set the tester to untrusted, it gave very informative and detailed security alerts (and then it passed the test and logged the tester in the interface under the "Key Logger" tab, but it only logged the key logger after the test was untrusted). You can even close both its tray tools from its right-click context menu. They are not needed for the firewall and HIPS components to continue running and protecting.


 

Outpost Screenshots Outpost Firewall Free is a good choice for users who want highly flexible protection without sacrificing usability. It was obviously made with average users in mind, judging by the care taken to simplify alert messages and make it easy to adjust intrusion prevention (or HIPS) monitoring. For example, it remembers your responses to popup alerts without the need to set "trusted" rules (like in Comodo/Online Armor), and like Online Armor it notifies you when it automatically allows an application to access the Internet (especially helpful during the learning phase).

The free version lacks many extras of the pay version, however, such as automatic updates and the ability to break active connections. The HIPS component is called "Host Protection" in the interface. It provides four default levels of protection, which can be easily set with a slider and additionally customized item by item by advanced users. The default "optimal" setting only monitors the "most dangerous activities" (such as memory injections, driver loads, and a healthy list of system critical features -- auto starts, shell extensions, and internet settings) instead of all program activities. But these "optimal" settings lack protection from keyloggers, direct disk accessing, DNS API request monitoring, etc. You can check the types of reduced monitoring in "Settings..." > "Host Protection" > "Customize...".

The installation asks whether you want to train the firewall for a week (using its Auto-Learn mode and Rules Wizard). In this mode, it sets rules automatically for known safe applications.


  

Private Firewall A former commercial product, Private Firewall is now unrestricted freeware. It is a proactive multi-layer security solution, offering behaviour blocking technology alongside standard firewall protection. Using Behavioral-based Monitoring, it features zero-hour virus, spyware, and malware protection, process and application security, and registry protection, just to name a few. It is definitely a feature-packed firewall/HIPS solution.

 While there is a decent help file available, the user interface can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. There are many configurable settings, and sorting through them may require some time. To help out with that there is a information menu on the right of each screen which explains what each section is for. Training mode allows all actions within a 180-second interval, which is ideal for installing or running programs for the first time. On the first run after installing however, Private Firewall still managed to disable Panda Cloud Antivirus, the antivirus software on my test system, even with Training mode activated. Adding Panda Cloud Antivirus to the allow list seemed to solve this minor issue.

It is also possible to set different security levels for the Internet and the Network. Various levels of protection (High, Low, and Custom) can be separately specified for Internet Access and Network Security (ie. file and printer sharing). This is useful for, say, when one needs to access the internet via a network they don't quite trust. In addition, there are three profiles you can choose: Home, Office, and Remote. You can set appropriate settings for each one and easily switch between them as needed; this is particulary useful for portable computers which connect to many different networks. Another useful feature is that it is possible to block all outbound email; simply click the 'Block Outbound Email' icon in the main user screen and all outbound email should be blocked.

Overall, Private Firewall is a very effective firewall; it ranks among the top products on Matousec. A number of members at our forum speak highly of the developers of Private Firewall, and the software is trusted. However, the graphic interface and usability is slightly tailored for the more advanced users. Beginner computer users may want to consider another firewall instead, but if you are comfortable with the basics of Windows & firewall software, you should definitely consider Private Firewall.


 

AVS FirewallAVS Firewall differs from other regular ones in that it comes with additional protection modules; namely a registry defender, a banner blocker, and parental control options – it is something like a suite. The firewall itself does not have as many configurable options as some of the firewalls listed on this page, but the standard selections are still there – off, which turns off the firewall; custom, which allows you to set your own connection rules; and high, which blocks all connections.

Each section of the program is displayed clearly; navigation is through the menu on the left. Alerts are generally clear and straightforward, as is configuration.

The registry defender protects the registry from being modified, with the option of only protecting select categories. The parental control limits the list of websites that can be accessed, but you must manually add each website to be trusted, ie. You cannot block specific websites; you can only allow certain websites. The anti-banner component blocks undesirable web page content including ads, flash banners, pop-ups and the like. All three of these additional modules can be disabled independently as desired. AVS Firewall also comes with a monitoring utility so you can check the size of network traffic which is sent and received by each application.

During installation of this firewall, the installer automatically installs the AVS Software Browser; there is no option to opt-out of installing this, but the program can be removed separately after installation with no effect on the actual firewall program. The installer also has a pre-checked option to install AVS Registry Cleaner, and it is recommended that it is unchecked so the installer does not install it.

Despite trying to bundle in a few additional programs by the vendor, AVS Firewall itself is a decent firewall program.  It has some additional features not found in your everyday firewall program, though most of those features can be found in other third party programs.

 

Other Firewalls for Windows 95-2000

The following firewall software are for older versions of Windows. While still available, they are no longer supported by the vendor and may contain bugs or stability/security issues that will not be addressed by the vendor.

Related Products and Links

 

Related to Firewalls

Security Guides

Security Products

Inbound Vulnerability Tests

Outbound Vulnerability Tests

Learn More

Quick Selection Guide - Basic Firewalls

Windows 7 Firewall Control
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple and effective; uses Window's built-in firewall platform so no third party kernel drivers are needed. Very small footprint. Three modes to choose from (Normal, EnableAll or DisableAll). Great for complementing Windows' built-in firewall
May be a bit annoying to use at first since the user must configure the initial rules for all their applications; no training mode. The dialog box that pops up to allow/disallow a particular program has a lot of information, some of which may not be too user friendly to beginner computer users. Online manual could be more comprehensive.
4.1.21.93
1.43 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Feature limited freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP, Server 2003, Vista, 7, Server 2008

Despite its name, this program works with system Windows XP and higher

TinyWall
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Lightweight basic firewall; simple yet effective. Non-intrusive program with no pop-ups. Ability to recognize associated processes when whitelisting programs. This program could be a good choice for those not familar with computers, as it does not require advanced knowledge to use.
No user dialog; everything is accessed from the pop-up menu. Not necessarily a bad thing, but may be different compared to what most are used to. Cannot select where to install the program. Requires .NET framework
http://tinywall.pados.hu
2.0
1MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 7, Vista
ZoneAlarm Free Firewall
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Solid inbound firewall, stealth mode, user friendly, customizable settings, anti-phishing protection, and hosts file lock.
Inadequate HIPS or program monitoring protection. No High setting for program access in Free version. In spite of available automatic update option, updates almost always must be performed manually. Help file designed for commercial version. New version (v10) has received negative feedback from our visitors
9.2.106
44.8
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP (32-bit), Vista, Windows 7 (2 GB RAM, 2 GHz, 100 MB disk space)

To learn more visit its service and support page

Quick Selection Guide - Firewalls with HIPS

PrivateFirewall
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Effective proactive security and stealth, one of the lightest of all tested firewalls on memory, simple setup (no nags or ads!). Easily choose between 3 network profiles. Has a unique "email/system anomaly detection" feature, which trains over 7 days by default. Quick to respond to queries / feature requests.
No automatic installation mode (but it has a training mode in "Settings" > "Advanced"). The tray icon flashes for log events instead of network activity per se. Program may be more suitable for advanced users due to slightly complex user interface.
http://www.privacyware.com/
7.0.25.4
7.7MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
XP & Server 2003 (32-bit), Vista, Windows 7 (128 MB RAM, 300 MHz, 10 MB disk space)

Additional Features of Interest (as Found in its Interface): Built-in help and tips. Auto trusts safe vendors. Able to block outbound email automatically. Network options for experts, with three default settings to modify (Home, Public, Work).

To learn more visit its feature list and online support (change log, user guide, & tutorials).

Comodo Firewall
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Its Defense+ HIPS performance exceeds commercial products and leads the class, it includes a "memory firewall" feature, and it allows you to quickly switch between Defense+ security modes and configurations. Includes automatic updates. Installation can automatically configure your PC to use the Comodo SecureDNS (but you can do this without installing CIS).
No built-in help. Despite not installing the AV component, the AV files are still placed in the Comodo program folder. Possible problems when uninstalling program; remants of the program are sometimes left
6.0.260739.2674
88 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP (SP2), Vista, Windows 7 - 152 MB RAM, 400 MB disk space

Additional Features of Interest (as Found in its Interface): Installation mode/training mode, auto updating, built-in help and tips, parental control with password protection, extra themes and languages, and a stealth ports wizard. Purges old or unused firewall/Defense+ policies or unused files (safe files, files waiting for review, etc.). Displays balloon messages for instant logging events.

To learn more visit its forum, online help, and/or release notes.

Outpost Firewall Free
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Proactive security (at max settings) compares with Online Armor. Highly flexible protection, simplified alert messages, and includes a full screen mode.
It fails tests for protection against malicious logouts or system shutdowns. The free version lacks automatic updates and the ability to break active connections.
http://free.agnitum.com/
2009 - v6.51
16.63 MB; 98.81 MB for Security Suite
32 and 64 bit versions available
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 7, Vista, XP - 450 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 200 MB free disk space

Newer versions and 64-bit version are part of the Outpost Free Security Suite - includes additional software components which may conflict with existing software.
64-bit version (98.81 MB v7.1) available here: http://download.cnet.com/Agnitum-Outpost-Security-Suite-Free-64-bit/3000... *Warning: Downloads from Cnet (Download.com) now require the use of a proprietary installer.

Reduced HIPS monitoring (lacking anti-key logger protection for example)

Additional Features of Interest (as Found in its Interface): Built-in "Help", full screen mode or entertainment mode.

Online Armor Free
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Excellent proactive security performance. Includes a "run safer" feature to reduce rights for specific risky applications, and the ability to monitor key logger activity and host files. It handles the installation of new programs better than some other tested products.
It doesn't have automatic updates or a built-in help. It's mandatory to enter an email during installation, and it has a pre-checked option to send it anonymous information. May have problems installing unless all remnants of similar programs have been removed from the receiving computer.
http://www.online-armor.com/
5.1.0.1331
30 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP (32-bit), Vista (32-bit), 7; 512MB Ram, 50MB Disk space

64-bit version only for Windows 7; XP 64bit and Vista 64bit are not supported

Additional Features of Interest (as Found in its Interface): Set passwords, protect programs (right-click > "Advanced options"), key Loggers tab/Hosts tab, and multi desktop support.

To learn more visit its forum, and blog.

AVS Firewall
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Has additional features not found in standard firewalls (registry defender, banner blocker, parental controls). Clear and straightforward navigation. Easy to configure
Parental control only allows you to add trusted sites; you cannot specify specific sites to block. Installer automatically installs AVS Software Browser which is not necessary for the firewall program, and has pre-checked option to install the vendor's Registry Cleaner. Firewall itself is not as configurable as others
2.1.2.241
22.9MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 7, XP, 2003, Vista

Have Your Say

Your opinion matters! If you've used one of these firewalls before, or know of another outstanding freeware firewall, let us know in the comments section below. For a more comprehensive discussion, please visit our forum.

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Tim; registered site visitors can contact Tim by clicking here 

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Comments

by AJNorth on 12. August 2014 - 0:04  (117894)

Greetings,

Sphinx now call their firewall application "Windows 8 Firewall Control" (Windows 8/7/Vista/2008/2012/XP/2003).

Regards,

AJN

by darrin71 on 8. August 2014 - 23:39  (117852)

Thanks MC for the update!

by darrin71 on 8. August 2014 - 6:21  (117826)

Hi MC ! Hope all is well! Just wondering if you have heard anything about/from PrivateFirewall as to when the next update or hopefully upgrade to a new GUI is coming? Been like 8 months now...

by MidnightCowboy on 8. August 2014 - 6:59  (117828)

Hi darrin71

I doubt the GUI will receive a makeover but I sent a contact to the developers about their plans in general. Will post here as soon as I receive a reply. MC - Site Manager.

by MidnightCowboy on 8. August 2014 - 12:46  (117834)

Greg Salvato the CEO of Privacyware was kind enough to respond in his usual timely manner.

The product is still supported, but it is unknown when Privacyware will allocate the engineering resources necessary to develop the next update. This depends on various business orientated conditions that have yet to be realized. MC - Site Manager.

by joy90976 on 27. July 2014 - 6:38  (117603)

AVS firewall is no longer on the AVS website. Mostly audio/video software.

by MidnightCowboy on 27. July 2014 - 7:21  (117606)

It is still there but now in a separate location for some reason. I have amended our product links accordingly. Thanks for drawing this to our attention. MC - Site Manager.

by George.J on 13. June 2014 - 16:31  (116763)

Is there any other firewall that gives you a widget like representation of traffic, like Comodo does?

Is there any download link that let's you download just Comodo Firewall and not the full security suite?

by wanderingmonk on 23. April 2014 - 4:15  (115851)

Loved Comodo and been using it for a few years....but when I upgraded to 7.0 it just seemed to royally screw my system over. I wonder if there's guides or anything regarding this. I'm also getting tired of the ads they're starting to pop-up now every like 10 min.

by sicknero on 23. April 2014 - 7:59  (115857)

Curious, I get no ads at all. I'm running the latest version of CIS.

Have you unticked "Show messages from Comodo message centre" in settings? I think that's the option related to ads and perhaps that got reset when the program updated to 7.

Is it screwing your system over in some other way, or just the ads?

If you've not seen it before, this is Chiron's useful guide to setting up the program - https://www.techsupportalert.com/content/how-install-comodo-firewall.htm

by wanderingmonk on 24. April 2014 - 4:34  (115867)

I'm basically going through the same thing as this person posted here: http://forums.comodo.com/firewall-help-cis/horrible-experience-after-upd...

It basically made my computer unable to shut down (gets frozen on the shutting down screen), unable to install or uninstall programs (for some reason can't do windows update either), made certain programs unresponsive (may be the HIPS blocking it), and messed with my ethernet (because it installed something in my Local Area Connection properties). Everything returns to normal after removing Comodo while putting my computer in safe mode. After looking into it a bit, I think the security in 7.0 was just overly beefed causing me unable to do anything because it was just blocking everything, or the update reset my previous settings and just went back to being overprotective.....not entirely sure but it was not a pleasant experience. For now, I just removed Comodo and am trying out the Privatefirewall one until I can research why the 7.0 was screwing with my system.

by MidnightCowboy on 23. April 2014 - 8:18  (115858)

This is just my opinion but even as the custodian of the HIPS review here, this type of software is always likely to "screw" up something, and certainly Comodo is not the only candidate. Even on a pristine system with no corruption that has never had a so called registry cleaner or "tweak" tool run on it, anything that either automatically or via user interaction controls every OS function is open to fail at some point. For general everyday use, I would always recommend a plain filtering firewall together with a classic AV and safe surfing practices as being the most efficient security combination.

You might also find the AV-Comparatives firewall test PDF report linked from this Wilders thread of interest.

http://www.wilderssecurity.com/threads/av-comparatives-firewall-test-03-...

MC - Site Manager.

by gggirlgeek on 22. February 2014 - 5:40  (114593)

Tried Tiny Wall again the other day to see how it's improved. It doesn't seem to have the ability to notify you of new connection attempts so you can block/allow. I guess it's designed for simplicity above all. Not my thing.

by MidnightCowboy on 22. February 2014 - 6:48  (114595)

How TinyWall is designed to operate is explained on their site. Please note that comments about shareware programs or comparisons between them and free software are deleted as spam. MC - Site Manager.

http://tinywall.pados.hu/features.php

by spaarks on 5. February 2014 - 12:52  (114262)

Zonealarm installed itself on my computer, accompanied by Zonealarm search installing itself on each of my browsers as the default search engine.
I got rid of both, but it has reappeared.
This spyware is not detected by Spybot or Malawarebytes.

by MidnightCowboy on 5. February 2014 - 13:35  (114264)

These extra items are only installed if you choose the option to do so during the install or upgrade process. There is plenty of advice on the web about how to avoid these (including installing the free version of WinPatrol) and/or how to remove them if you picked the wrong options. ZoneAlarm is just one of many software vendors who bundle extra components with the main program, but all are avoidable with proper care. See here for more information. MC - Site Manager.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/what-else-have-you-just-download...

by cpuking on 12. February 2014 - 20:53  (114434)

Midnightcowboy.

Sorry to disagree with you. It is not true that extra items are only installed if you choose the option to do so. Most of the time they are automatic, unless you remove a check mark from a box. Some are automatic unless you choose custom install, so you can see the extra programs that are being installed. These software vendors are getting more and more sneaky about trying to get these extra items downloaded onto your computer. I got tricked just last week with a download of extra items.( I Look for these extra items very hard with every download. So you have to be very sneaky, to get one by me. And one did get by me last week) That is why I do all my downloads, sandboxed first. That is my suggestion to everyone now, is to sandbox all your downloads. That way you can see what you may have missed during the download.

by MidnightCowboy on 12. February 2014 - 21:42  (114435)

Sneaky or not, the options are still there so whether you tick, don't tick or choose quick or default over custom this is still user choice and these extra items can only get on to your PC by making these choices. MC - Site Manager.

by cpuking on 13. February 2014 - 23:13  (114449)

Midnightcowboy,

I,m sure your view is held by all the software company's, that package these extra pieces of software in with their download. If it makes them feel better blaming the consumer, then more power to'em.

by Gasolineaddict on 27. January 2014 - 11:03  (113953)

Hi there! After hearing much fanfare about Tinywall here and there I decided to create a 7x64 ISO with RT7Lite with firewall service turned on and give it a shot, being a bit of firewall compulsive as of late and after years of Comodo I just wanted to test it out... not a bad effort if you ask me, learning mode is a nice feature, but still needs a bit of polishing in terms of Gui and some weird behaviour, I noticed has a tendency of losing user settings and whitelists, reverting to default, this happened a couple of times, though it might just be hardware-depending, and does not have a confirm-upon-exit button, but that's not a major issue... the major drawback for me is that despite what's been said it's a bit of a resource hog, loads 2 processes floating around 25 MB each often peaking at 65+ which is nothing to fret about on 8Gb machines but could be a pain in the arse on older hardware, especially for something that's supposed to be feather-light... Comodo and Online Armor for instance both open up 4 processes, summing up roughly 50Mb during heavy usage. I ended up rolling back to Online Armor, which feels good for my needs, but if I had to pick up the main selling points of Tinywall they'd be its small and clean installer, learning mode, lack of conflicts with other software whatsoever, ease of use and no congestion on net performance
Cheers

by t i m on 16. February 2014 - 7:00  (114489)

As with virtually all software agreed it certainly has its pros & cons. Depending on the user it just might be fitting for some, while others may require the more advanced-featured ones. Thanks for your comment!

by sicknero on 22. January 2014 - 15:55  (113888)

I gave Private Firewall a test drive the other week, for a few days.

The GUI is ugly as anything but aside from that I liked it quite a lot. I found it quite easy to set up and use, the volume of pop ups is nothing too fazing if you're a long-term Comodo user and I found the whitelisting procedure somewhat quicker and smoother. The program as a whole seemed a lot lighter on resources than CIS.

The reason I went back to CIS was that I couldn't work out how to get PF working with proxies ... when I tried to use a PAC it seemed to confuse PF to the point of a system-hanging volume of log entries and the program I was trying to use not connecting.

Before that I tried TinyWall ... I really really like this one. It's so unobtrusive and simple that it's bordering on charming : )

I like the approach very much - refuse internet access to positively everything unless I say otherwise (it does have an included whitelist of Windows processes). I kept it for a week or so but on the whole I think it still needs some work - for instance whitelisting while it's pretty well implemented (the option to just click on an open window is great), doesn't allow multi-selection so if you whitelist by browsing files/running processes it can be a bit of a pain to do them all individually. For instance whitelisting all the execs that Avast needs to have net access means selecting one, closing the dialog, selecting the next, closing the dialog, etc etc. It can also be a time consuming process of trial and error working out exactly what processes a program does need access for in order to work. The promised ability to recognise child execs as belonging to a parent program didn't work for me either.

Drag and drop functionality would be a good addition, as would resizable dialogues.

Lastly it crashed on me several times while I was trying it out, which while it doesn't leave you "unfirewalled" (as TW is just a front-end GUI and hardener for the native Windows FW) is still not a great selling point.

I'll definitely be keeping my eye on any future development though. Meanwhile, back to CIS : )

Thanks for the write-ups Tim.

by freestuffrocks on 23. January 2014 - 9:29  (113920)

Some people seem to have had a few problems uninstalling Privatefirewall - how about you? Also, do you know if there's a removal tool that works with Vista?

by freestuffrocks on 22. January 2014 - 15:17  (113882)

As long time number one Comodo has been beaten by Privatefirewall for the top spot, would it be possible to do an installation and setup guide for Privatefirewall along similar lines to Chiron's excellent guide for Comodo Firewall?

by t i m on 24. January 2014 - 7:00  (113954)

That is a good idea, will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!

by nimbal on 14. December 2013 - 6:23  (112938)

Hi,
Nice Article
but can we use any firewall for small business.
like one server is installed with firewall only and then provide internet surfing from that server to other system.
is there any free firewall there for 20-30 system.
please reply.

by Ile67 on 14. January 2014 - 11:38  (113583)
by dr.dr on 5. December 2013 - 21:53  (112790)

I just tried installing zone alarm free with their
zafwSetupWeb_120_104_000, but it requires
you to use ZONE ALARM SEARCH as your home page's search site and as your home page and new tab for all browsers, and as your default search provider for all browsers.

That's just freakin' nuts!

by MidnightCowboy on 5. December 2013 - 22:47  (112793)

You can deselect these options during the install process. MC - Site Manager.

https://www.zonealarm.com/forums/showthread.php/79487-SOLVED-Z-Search-page

by BrollyLSSJ on 5. November 2013 - 18:35  (112054)

I would like to see version 7 of Online Armor tested. I understand, that you do not consider [edited out]. I just installed it (I bought it 2 years ago) and it seems that the Learning mode got removed completely. Though TinyWall is not bug free. From the beginning (2.0, maybe also 1.2, if I remember correctly) it loses it settings from time to time. That should be mentioned as well. Even though it is still the best GUI for the Windows Firewall.

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